Sweet peas are, not surprisingly members of the pea family: their botanical name is Greek for “pea”. Sweet peas are Lathyrus odorous – or “fragrant peas”. But although they look alike, there is an important difference. Most peas are edible, including the wild, or “sea” peas , which in 1555, a year of famine, “miraculously” appeared on the beaches of the Suffolk coast [ England ] and saved the lives of the starving poor who gathered them by the sackful. But sweet peas are poisonous, and there is even a medical term lathyrism, to describe sweet pea poisoning which has serious consequences including convulsions, paralysis in the legs and unconsciousness. [ So as sweet as these peas appear please do not put these sweet pea blooms in your salad ]
The original blossoms though fragrant were small and purple. The sweet pea and its fragrance has gone in and out of fashion over the years. Sweet peas have become larger and frillier and fragrant with the fashion of the time. Indeed, Oliver Twist recovered his health in a garden of flowers that “perfumed the air with delicious odours”.
From the book ” 100 Flowers and how they got their names” by Diana Wells, published 1997
I have a packet of sweet peas received from a good friend, they will be a welcome addition to my spring garden. Traditionally, sweet peas are planted on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th and so it will be in my garden.